Many from town had pitched in and helped finish the renovations Leo had started on the house. They'd finished so fast, Shelly almost thought she'd blinked and missed them. One minute her house was a disaster and the next it was done. She admittedly felt safer, which was the reason they'd done it. She was out here in the sticks by herself. Leo didn't have very many friends but he sure had made a lot of enemies.
She'd gotten offers for help with the yard, but she'd declined. She wanted to do it herself. The house was finished according to Leo's plan. There was really nothing else to do with it, considering how much he'd done before he was shot.
But the yard. The open space that surrounded the house that Leo built. This was hers. Or it would be anyway. She could plant six dozen rose bushes and no one would laugh at her for being ridiculous. Or hit her for spending too much money. That last part was something she was still getting used to.
As it turned out, Leo made more money than she realized or could even begin to comprehend. The house was hers, free and clear. She wasn't wealthy by any means, but she could afford to get her GED and then keep working at the Double R part-time while she went to school. Also part-time.
And if she was in the position to need money, she could sell his truck. She couldn't bring herself to do it even though she knew it would probably be the best thing for her. She'd cleaned the house out of just about everything that would remind her of him with the exception of a few things that she wanted to hold on to. She'd loved him at one time.
The things that she'd kept didn't have sentimental value for her. They were just things that while Leo's were still useful to her. A few flannel shirts, some of his records and books, things like that. She imagined one day, the flannel shirts would get burned with the other rubbish in her burn barrel, but for now she used them when she came out to work in the garden early enough it was still cool.
She heard the sound of tires on the gravel driveway, but didn't bother looking up. Her mother had mentioned possibly coming by later today and she was elbows deep in dirt and grass just then. Since Leo's death she'd renewed her relationship with her parents.
It had been her choice to draw away. Well, Leo had forced her to make it. She hadn't wanted her parents to see her life. Rather than admit she'd made a mistake, she just stayed away. Her mother caught glimpses of her at the Double R, but Shelly always made a point to find something to do in the back when her mother came in to the diner. Her father, wisely, had stayed away.
"So, they told me you'd taken on gardening, but I had no idea how extensive a project that entailed."
She gave a startled yelp at the sound of Gordon's voice. She closed her eyes, counting to ten, praying when she got up to turn around he'd be just a figment of her imagination. They'd talked on the phone a few times since her weekend in Seattle, but he'd seemed to understand and respect her need for time and space. So, why was he just showing up at her house unannounced?
Not to mention she looked a mess. She'd been out here longer than she'd meant to be. She'd come out after breakfast intent only on weeding one of the beds. So, she hadn't showered or done her hair or anything. She was filthy pretty much from head to toe. The shorts she was wearing had seen better days, which was why she was wearing them. Set beside her a few feet away was one of Leo's flannel shirts she'd put on initially, but she'd gotten hot so stripped down to just her bra.
She stood, turning to face him grateful she'd taken the time to put the bra on at all. She lived in the middle of nowhere and wouldn't have been seen if she hadn't worn anything under Leo's shirt.
"I startled you," he said, taking a moment to take in her appearance. If she had any doubt about whether he was a nice guy, the fact his eyes didn't linger any longer than they should have where he could have would have laid them to rest.
Oh God, he's going to take one look at me, see how pathetic I look and walk away.
She wouldn't blame him, except she hadn't gotten the impression he was that type of man. Of course, her track record in reading guys correctly was pretty poor. So who knew? His lips lifted into an amused smile and she knew it was all right. She let out the breath she'd been holding.
"You could say that."
He turned then, facing away from her. It was his way of giving her time to get Leo's shirt and put it back on, she realized. And she was grateful. Not that her bra showed anything more than a bikini top would, but it was the principal of it. He apparently agreed.
"I didn't mean to," he called over his shoulder, using the louder voice he didn't need to with her. "I tried calling and when I didn't get an answer assumed you were out. So, I just came by to drop these off."
She noticed then he hadn't come empty handed. He'd brought something for her to plant, judging by the bags by his side.
"You can turn around now," she said once she'd buttoned the shirt up enough she looked decent. A glance at her fingers let her know that she would be scrubbing the dirt out from under her nails in the shower later. She liked it, though. It gave her something to do and took her mind off things. There was something about planting things. About watching her efforts take root and bloom that gave her hope that her own at personally growing would work.
"I'm sorry if I caught you when you wanted to be alone."
"No, it's fine," she said, waving her hand dismissively as she walked toward him. "I didn't mean to be out here this long."
"You get lost in it then?"
"Yeah, I do."
"That's good, you need it."
"What are you doing here?" she asked, not wanting to appear rude. She was far from ready for a guy to drive over from Seattle spontaneously to see her.
"Going over some things with Coop. Crimes at banks are always messy and the paperwork never seems to end. Add in the fact people died," he said with a shrug. It was the first time that he'd ever really touched on the work he did.
"Oh," she said, closing her eyes from relief that he was here for something other than her. Happy, though, that while here he'd taken the time to see her.
"You were worried I drove here to see you?"
She bit her lip, meeting his gaze. Would that be bad to admit? She wasn't sure. She was so new at this whole thing. Whatever it was they were doing. "Yes," she said softly.
"I wouldn't do that. I understand where you're at, not to say it's easy."
"Thank you, that's good to know, and I appreciate that you're being patient with me." She glanced at the bags at his feet. "So what did you bring me?"
"Well, Norma let it slip that you were working ferociously on a garden out here so I asked some questions and was told you had your eye on a couple things that you hadn't gotten yet."
"The hot chocolate lily mix?" She couldn't keep the excitement from her voice. They wouldn't bloom until next season, which was why she'd put off buying them. She wanted to plant things that would grow now. She needed that immediate result for some reason. Needed to know her hard work was paying off. She'd seen them at a nursery and she'd been instantly taken with them, they were just that beautiful. And original.
He nodded, looking a little surprised she'd guessed it so quickly. He had no idea how many times she'd gone back to the nursery to look at those flowers. "That and some hollyhocks. My mother always had hollyhocks in her garden."
She didn't even know what to say. She'd never gotten a gift from someone for no reason or without expecting something in return.
"Thank you, Gordon," she said.
"Your smile is thanks enough, but I'm happy to do it."
"I've never had anyone give me something just because before."
"Now you have. How does it feel?"
She smiled wider. "Pretty good. Would you like to come in?"
"Since you weren't expecting me I understand if you want to get back to what you were doing."
"No, I was telling the truth when I said I hadn't meant to be out here this long. I could spend all day out here and it wouldn't be long enough."
"You're enjoying it?"
"That's all that matters."
"I guess," she said, leading him to the house. It felt a little strange having him here, a combining of her old life and what she hoped was her new life. Not that she expected a life with him, but just that he represented change. Her future. Something different. And definitely something better.
"I take it that means you're staying put?" he asked once they were inside. She went over his house in her mind as she led him to the kitchen. Hers had to look so rundown and dingy compared to his place. It wasn't much, but Leo had been so proud about having built it himself.
"Yeah, for now. I'm going to take some classes at the community college once I've gotten my GED. Then I'll see where I can go from there. Can I get you something? Coffee? Breakfast?" She glanced at the clock, realized she'd literally gardened the morning away. "Lunch I guess now."
"I'm fine, unless you're going to have something."
"I could make us some sandwiches. I think I might even have a pie in the freezer I can thaw."
"One of Norma's?"
"Yes," she said with a smile.
"Count me in," he said.
She went to the freezer to pull out the pie, anticipating his answer. Setting the pie on the counter she glanced at her hands again.
"Do you mind if I clean up and change real quick first?" She held out her hands so he could see how dirt infested they were. "I'm a mess, I must look ten times worse."
He closed the distance between them, which wasn't hard to do because the kitchen while good sized (Leo had to be sure his kitchen was suitable for keeping his wife in it, barefoot and pregnant while she was there) wasn't industrial sized or anything.
He skimmed her face with his hand, resting his palm against her cheek. Her eyes fell closed at the touch. He was giving her the space she needed but wasn't afraid to let her know he wanted to be here with her. To touch her even if she wasn't sure what exactly she was ready for. At the moment, his touch was electric and she wanted more of it. It could have been all the fresh air she'd gotten that morning or just the fact she liked him touching her.
"I think you look great."
"I do not," she said, though she couldn't deny his words made her stomach do a real weird flippy thing that she couldn't remember it doing in a very long time.
He kissed her. One of the short and sweet but nonetheless nice variety. Just a brief touching of lips, but effective at letting her know he'd missed her just the same. She exhaled softly when he drew away.
"You could argue with me, but you wouldn't win because I'm the one standing here looking at you. A little dirt from working hard doesn't detract from what I perceive as beauty."
Wow, what did she say to that? She wasn't sure Leo had ever said she was beautiful. He'd made her feel all kinds of things when he was sweeping her off her feet, but he'd never been sincere.
"All right," she said softly.
"Do what you need to do, Shelly, I'll be here."
"Thanks," she said. "I'll try not to take too long."
She closed the door once she got to her room, pressing her back against it. This was the only room she'd spent any money on so far. The bed she'd shared with Leo - and Bobby - was gone. All of it. In its place was a nice bed that had a dresser, nightstand, and armoire to match. Not that she even knew what an armoire was. She'd just liked the look of it. The bathroom was new, too, from the wallpaper to the shower curtain and towels right down to the bath mat on the floor. This was the one room in the house she wanted no reminders of anyone.
She glanced at the bed, still unmade because she was too lazy to do it that morning. She wondered what it would be like to make new memories to go with the new things in here. If she opened the door and called to him, he'd probably join her. It was tempting and as much as she hated to admit it, she'd gotten sort of used to steady sex with Bobby.
And that was absolutely the worst reason to take her relationship with Gordon to that level yet.
"Slow," she reminded herself.
He was willing to go slow with her. She couldn't, wouldn't, screw that up. As tempting as it was to put the new bed to the test, she walked past it to the bathroom. There, she started the shower and shed her clothes, stepping into the warm water.
The dirt from her day working in the garden would come off. There were other layers there, though, ones she couldn’t see of things that it would take more than a quick shower to undo and enable her to get over.
She would, though, she had confidence in that. She just didn't know how long it would take. She was bound and determined not to let the ghost of Leo keep her down.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com